, 03 October, 2019 / 3:41 AM
In a country where Christian churches have maintained educational and health institutions, facilitated humanitarian programs through their structures at the grassroots, and operationalized an ecumenical approach in calling for an end to violence and a peaceful resolution of the protracted conflict in the world’s youngest nation, an analysis of the impact of the gospel message on South Sudanese would give perspective to the central mission of the Churches, which is to evangelize through the promotion of gospel values.
ACI Africa caught up with the Coordinator of the Pastoral department of the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in East Africa (AMECEA), Fr. Emmanuel Chimombo who just returned from South Sudan. He shared about his encounters with his counterparts at the Juba-based Bishops’ conference, revealing gaps, possible reasons, the Church’s strategies to fill the gaps, and the impact of the ongoing initiatives to promote gospel values among the people of God in South Sudan.
“It seems that Christianity is not reflected much in their actions,” Fr. Emmanuel Chimombo told ACI Africa in reference to Christians in South Sudan who are estimated at about 60 percent of the population, according to the 2012 Pew Research Center report.
“It (Christianity) has not impacted much on their lives because there is a lot of fighting, a lot of tribalism and there is even a saying that people are closer to their tribes than to Christ,” Malawian-born Fr. Chimombo explained, pointing to the culture of revenge in the world’s newest nation.
He identified lack of exposure and mutual interaction among cultures as a possible factor behind the state of things among South Sudanese saying, “Some are locked only to their language, and because they have only their local language, they don’t have access to different cultures.”
“When you go to the outskirts, in the villages, there is a lot of such ignorance, illiteracy and that has impacted on the way people behave,” Fr. Chimombo who was in Juba together with the head of the department of theological research at Missio Aachen, Germany, Prof. Klaus Vellguth, narrated.
In response to the gap in the process of evangelization in South Sudan, Fr. Chimombo took note of the initiative at the level of the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SCBC), the umbrella body of Bishops in Sudan and South Sudan.
“They (Bishops) are concentrating very much first of all on forming the priests so that they should be acquainted with their job,” he said in relation to the capacity building initiative that is targeting Church leaders in dioceses in South Sudan including the religious who form the majority in some dioceses.
The strategy is that once the clergy and religious are equipped with relevant information and methodology to pass on gospel values, the laity will be reached with the message at the grassroots in the parishes, Fr. Chimombo said.
At the national level, the Church in South Sudan has also a facility where programs aimed at equipping pastoral agents with skills as well as their own healing are conducted.
The Juba-based facility, Good Shepherd Peace Centre provides human, pastoral and spiritual formation, peace building and trauma healing.
Established by the Religious Superiors’ Association of South Sudan (RSASS) and launched in 2014, the Good Shepherd Peace Centre has sought to keep to its national character, providing services to the clergy, women and men religious, and laity, Fr. Chimombo noted.
“This is another achievement for the Church in the face of difficulties,” Fr. Chimombo observed, appreciating the initiatives Church leaders in South Sudan are undertaking to promote gospel values among South Sudanese through the Good Shepherd Peace Center.
Given the situation of a protracted conflict attributed to politics and differences based on tribe, the Good Shepherd Peace Centre has made it possible for contending tribes to co-exist peacefully and help realize the objectives of peace and reconciliation, the AMECEA Pastoral Coordinator said, recalling testimonies from some beneficiaries of the pastoral initiative.
“The system is unique in the sense that it is built like a village, and in a very volatile area,” Fr. Chimombo remarked about the centre located in Kit in the outskirts of Juba city.
He appreciated the pastoral care toward soldiers in Juba taking place at the Center saying, “The Center has brought together soldiers from different ethnicities with their families in the parish land and provided them with spaces for farming,” Fr. Chimombo
“The Training for the soldiers takes place within the land of the Good Shephard Peace Centre,” Fr. Chimombo reiterated, adding that the Center is separated from the parish premises, “is built on land leased from Brothers of St. Martin de Porres Brothers, and has the Comboni Missionary Fr. Paolino Tipo as its Director.”
“Now the Training of Soldiers happens in a very unique way. The soldiers are sent to safeguard the Centre and surrounding areas by Government, and are on Government pay role. The Centre only gives them incentives so that they can own the place,” Fr. Chimombo said.
The training takes the “form of induction so that they (soldiers) understand the purpose of the place and how the Centre contributes to the welfare of the people around including the soldiers themselves and their families,” Fr. Chimombo clarified.
“Through these induction courses, the director explains to them Social Teaching of the Church especially emphasizing the dignity of human beings, value of human life and why God created all of us,” Fr. Chimombo continued, expressing appreciation for the informal nature of the training that sees the director of the Center (Fr. Tipo) interact with the soldiers as friends.
“What he (Fr. Tipo) values most is to establish friendship with them as community of brothers and sisters). They are allowed to bring along their families, build houses where they stay with them, and as families, their children study at a school built close to the Centre,” Fr. Chimombo narrated to ACI Africa.
The AMECEA Pastoral Coordinator acknowledged with appreciation the impact of this training testifying, “Despite (the fact) that they (soldiers) use guns, they strive to work with dignity of life, to the extent that every life is sacred and ought to be defended, even of the enemy.”
“There was an enemy of the opposite side who came shooting,” Fr Chimombo said in relation to an attack the soldiers contained and continued, “all (soldiers) went but instead of killing him, they surrounded him and brought him alive.”
“Even this man whom they had chained, the soldiers had to unchain him and gave him advice and took all the weapons,” Fr. Chimombo shared, recalling what he was told in his recent visit to Juba, South Sudan.
The catechesis at the Good Shepherd Peace Center seems to be bearing fruit, bringing about the desired change in the beneficiaries of the programs there, among them, soldiers, Fr. Chimombo confirmed.
Asked about the impression of his companion during the South Sudan visit, Prof. Klaus Vellguth, head of the department of theological research at Missio Aachen, Fr. Chimombo said, “He is carrying a positive message to fellow members in Germany and also to the rest of Missio. He (Prof. Vellguth) is going to communicate that message, portraying the positive aspects that are in South Sudan.”
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa